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Democratic lawmakers already eyeing November

May 14th, 2018

— The 2018 legislative session isn’t even underway yet, but House and Senate Democrats on Monday released their agenda for the 2019 session and beyond, should voters decide to hand Democrats the majority in the General Assembly in November.

Such a sweeping turnover would be unprecedented. Republicans hold super-majorities in both the House and the Senate. Democrats would need to retain all of their current seats – 45 in the House and 15 in the Senate – while flipping an additional 16 seats in the House and 11 in the Senate.

Given that the Republican-drawn legislative maps favor a GOP majority, a Democratic takeover would be a seismic event.

Yet, Democrats say, recent special elections in other states as well as Democratic primary turnout in North Carolina last week are clear signs that voters in 2018 are dissatisfied and highly motivated.

“Democrat enthusiasm is at an all-time high. Last Tuesday, Democratic candidates received more votes than Republican candidates, even though Republicans had more primary elections,” Sen. Jay Chaudhuri, D-Wake, said at a Monday news conference. “So it’s safe to say that the General Assembly is going to look a lot different this time next year.”

Chaudhuri and House Minority Leader Darren Jackson said the energy is being driven at least in part by frustration at President Donald Trump. Nonetheless, they said Democrats don’t plan to rely on that frustration.

“People want to know what you’re for, not just what you’re against,” Jackson, D-Wake, said. “Of course, Donald Trump has created an environment that’s created a lot of excitement among our base, but it’s our job to tell people what we would do differently from the Republicans, and that’s what we’re doing here today.”

Their agenda, labeled “Our Carolina Promise,” includes many proposals the party’s been pushing for years, from increasing school spending and expanding Medicaid to protecting voter rights and resurrecting the state Earned Income Tax Credit. It also includes a few less partisan proposals, such as infrastructure spending and broadband expansion.

One item could have come straight from the U.S. Supreme Court’s docket: A proposal to enact independent redistricting reform.

In the decades prior to 2011, when Democrats held legislative power, Republicans had called for redistricting reform, but Democrats declined to act on it. Asked what had changed, Rep. Robert Reives, D-Chatham, said voters across the political spectrum are more concerned now about redistricting than in the past, thanks in part to technology that enables more extreme gerrymandering than ever before.

“The bottom line is, nobody wants what we’ve seen for the past three or four years. Nobody wants what we’re having to see continuously in the courts,” Reives said. “You see this all throughout the country. Partisan gerrymandering is for the first time going up to the Supreme Court, and I think that makes a big difference.

“You’re right – Democrats had a chance to do this a long time ago. We did not do it,” he continued. “But I think, now that we’ve seen how bad it can get, we’re going to make sure that nobody – neither Democrats nor Republicans – will have a chance to abuse this again.”

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